by: W. J. Talley ((Header art is by the incredibly talented Leah Tinari.))
An enduring band of friends, a slew of embarrassing nicknames, and the missing link that changed everything…
The five guys walked into the casino’s coffee shop in a V formation. Stewart, as always, was on point. He slowed the cadence as they passed the hostess desk to drop off a twenty dollar bill folded in thirds with a green plastic-coated paperclip. When the hostess returned she would know that Stewart and his crew were seated at their usual spot. Stewart slid into the center of the massive continuous curved booth. Twin brothers, Sean and Roger, slid in on Stewart’s left; Ted and Jerry slid in on Stewart’s right. No one could remember when Stewart appointed himself leader or when he started using the word “crew” to describe the half circle of friends. It had happened sometime after they graduated from Stanford seven years ago. They were students from different disciplines and backgrounds, but united in their obsession with poker.
Stewart’s poker skills easily eclipsed anyone in the crew. When he offered advice or strategy, the crew listened. Perhaps his poker skills made him the obvious choice as leader, but there was more to it. He made all the reservations including flights for the twins living in Seattle. He always reserved the best hotel rooms at discount rates and premium seats at restaurants, clubs and shows. When anyone needed money, Stewart would pay their way, but he never gave them money for gambling. If you lost your bank, you sat out. They spent one weekend a month in Las Vegas, but the crew was certain that Stewart spent every weekend in Las Vegas and other casinos in Nevada. The crew accepted his leadership in exchange for all the work he did, but everyone in the crew hated the nicknames, especially Jerry.
Jerry saw her first. He gave her half a smile and she returned the same. She followed a direct path to their table.
“Excuse me gentlemen, I have a request,” she said.
“Anything you want is yours,” Stewart replied.
“Good, please follow me back to reception so that I may seat you at a table more befitting your party.”
“I left you my hall pass,” Stewart said. “It’s a twenty folded in thirds.”
“I appreciate your generosity, but this booth has a minimum of six. So please follow me.”
“Wait. First of all,” Stewart said. “Who are you and where is Shirley?”
“I’m Julie. Shirley moved back to Phoenix. This is my first day.”
“Julie, we’ve been up all night in poker tourneys. We haven’t had much to eat. I promise my crew will eat the equivalent of ten customers. It’s ten-thirty Saturday morning, right?”
Stewart fumbled for his cell phone and started swiping through his contacts. He stopped and showed a picture to the hostess. “Do you know the person with me in this photo?”
“Yes,” Julie said.
“And what? You asked if I knew him and I answered.”
“OK Julie, other than me, who is in the photo?”
“Larry, my supervisor.”
“We’re outside a gentleman’s club so you know we’re friends. Go talk to Larry. Tell him Stewart is here. He will set you straight. Did Shirley say why she was moving back home?”
“She said the customers here were becoming real assholes.”
They all watched her leave. Stewart made a mental note to get the lowdown from Larry about Julie.
“She is hot,” Stewart said.
“Smoking hot,” Ted said.
“Completely mate-worthy,” Sean said.
“Sexy A, triple F,” Roger said.
Jerry did not join in the rating of the new hostess and Stewart noticed. “Hey Bi-Way, you don’t think she’s hot? Oh right….you have strange standards.”
Stewart’s remark was one of many cut downs and barbs Jerry would hear over the weekend that echoed how he had obtained his peculiar nickname, Bi-Way.
During the first year after graduation, Stewart had convinced the guys to go to Vegas with him on the weekend following their spring break. They originally planned to go during spring break so Jerry could get himself laid. He had recently broken up with his college girlfriend and was in need of a one-night stand (or two), but Stewart wanted to get a feel for the city when it was at rest. He was sure the poker would be better, faster, and cleaner.
As a peace offering, Stewart rented a limousine on their first night to help Jerry find a girl. They all agreed if he got lucky, they would take a taxi back to the hotel. They stopped at a few places, but only found hookers and grandmothers. Jerry began doing double shots of Jack in the limousine. He buzzed the driver and the privacy divider slid down.
“C’mon driver,” I don’t want a hooker. I want someone half-decent that looks normal so I can send a selfie to my ex. I’m just looking for a little strange.”
The driver answered with a thick Russian accent. “If you look for strange, I know the place, guarantee you get sexed. Even guys no dicks, what you call them…like in China old days….”
“Eunuchs?” Jerry asked.
“Yeah, even them kind no problem getting laid here.”
Everyone in the limo laughed. The driver took them to a small strip mall a mile out past the Hog Ranch. The lounge was at the end of the row of stores, seemingly out of place with its blacked-out windows, and the entrance was around the back. A bouncer stood outside guarding a Take-A-Number stand, pulling tickets and collecting money for first drinks. Once inside, Jerry walked around the bar counting heads and calculating the gender ratio – seven women, five men, not including his friends. But something seemed awry with the women. They all looked alike, with dark skin and black thick hair. He feared a Mexican coyote had just dropped off the newest sex slaves. Jerry looked around for his crew and spotted them in the video poker room far away from the women. They had given him the field to hunt in.
Jerry went to the bar to claim his drink and immediately desired the bar maid. She was probably ten years older than him, but she was everything the seven huddled refugees were not. She wore a tight white cotton wife beater dress that showed her every contour, bump, and the pucker of her areolas. He could not see her ass behind the bar, but he knew it must be epic.
“Hi, can I have your ticket?”
Jerry complied and tried not to stare.
“Your entry ticket gets you a bottle of domestic beer, anything else is extra.”
“I’ve been drinking shots of Jack all night, I should stick with that but with ice. So let me guess. Former dancer, saved your money and bought a bar?”
“You must be a college boy.”
“I was, now I’m a college man.”
She put his Jack and ice on the bar and placed a cocktail napkin on top of the glass.
“Hey, what’s this?” he asked.
“Someone just bought you a drink. You should be a polite college man and go over there and say thanks.”
Jerry slow-walked towards the refugees. He secretly hoped the tallest one of the lot bought the drink. The others looked under age.
“Who should I thank for this?”
“Me,” said the tall one.
There was only one space left to sit on the couches where the ladies were and lucky for Jerry it was next to the tall one. After fifteen minutes he had learned all their names and countries of origin. The short ones all came from the Philippines and the tall one came from Brazil. The Brazilian’s name was Rafaela. They were all dancers, but they could not find work. He offered to buy a round of drinks for everyone but they all declined. The cutest Filipina explained, “You buy us drinks nobody else come over to sit and talk to us.”
He wished the Filipina had bought him the drink. She seemed softer than the Brazilian. The Brazilian looked like a kickboxer. He leaned towards Rafaela.
“You are very fit, are you an athlete?”
“In a way. My family runs a Carnival dance troupe. I started dancing when I was three years old.”
Jerry began to get perturbed by Stewart who was hovering, trying to catch his eye. Finally Stewart came to him.
“Meet me in the video poker room,” Stewart said.
Jerry caught up with Stewart and yanked his hoodie sleeve causing him to spin around. They were half way between the video poker room and the couches.
“What do you want, Stewart?”
“We need to go and you should come with us.”
“Stewart, I’ve had enough of your bullshit. It was okay in the beginning, but you making all the decisions and barking orders stops now. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going back over there and take a long hard look and then I’m going to grab and kiss the girl I want. Then we’ll go out to the limousine and have sex. Expect extra charges on the bill. If she is any good, I’ll take her back to the hotel and not leave the room until Monday morning.”
“You’re not going to kiss a girl.”
Jerry moved closer to Stewart, standing only inches away from him.
“You think I won’t do it.”
“You’re not going to kiss a girl.”
“You want to bet on that? Five hundred dollars,” Jerry said.
“Okay, but I really don’t want your money. Let’s bet if you go over there to your entourage, and kiss a girl, you get five hundred dollars. If you go over there and don’t kiss a girl then I will give you a nickname. And you will answer to it or pay a hundred dollars each time you ignore me.”
“But if I do kiss one of them, I get five hundred dollars.”
“But you’re not going to kiss a girl.”
As he walked back towards the dancers, Jerry’s father’s favorite expression looped in his head. Dance with the one what brung ya. He stood in front of Rafaela and offered his hand, as if asking for a dance. Rafaela took his hand and stood up. Jerry moved closer, sliding his left foot between the Brazilian’s feet. He dropped the dancer’s hand and encircled his arm around Rafaela’s muscular waist. Then he pulled his choice for the night towards him parting the dancer’s legs. He felt calves, then knees, thighs and finally Rafaela’s crotch. But something felt wrong. Rafaela’s face was turned down and Jerry pulled it up with a crooked finger under the dancer’s chin. Then he saw Rafaela’s Adam’s apple.
Jerry pulled his leg away and backed up full tilt. He tripped backwards when he reached the transition from carpet to wooden dance floor. He stood and ran towards the door stopping to fling a fifty dollar bill at the barmaid-owner and yelling he hoped it covered anything he owed. He stumbled out of the door, knocking over the Take-A-Number stand. He bent over to stand it up, but instead he resurrected Jack Daniels. After the final retch he tried to stand again but he quickly went down on his ass. His vision started to clear and he saw the crew standing ten feet away.
“You sons-of-bitches, you knew and said nothing.”
“That’s not true,” Stewart said. “I tried.”
“Riddles to a drunk guy, you call that trying?”
Jerry saw movement behind the crew.
“Excuse me gentlemen. Are you ready for another place, or you go back to hotel?” asked the limousine driver.
Jerry jumped up and ran towards the driver. “You Communist prick, whatever gave you the idea to bring us to a tranny bar?”
“You say you want strange. I tell you that eunuchs go here.”
“When a guy says he wants some strange it means he wants someone different, unknown. A one night stand.”
“Very sorry, my America citizenship book not cover sex activities.”
“I should kick the dog shit out of you.”
The driver reached behind his back and brought out a handgun pointing it directly at Jerry.
“Mr. Stewart, tell your boy all drivers in Vegas have carry permits. Only reason this mu’dak still stands, because too much paperwork for shooting people.”
Stewart walked towards Jerry and the driver, stopping a few feet away. Stewart positioned himself to grab either Jerry or the gun.
“Nikolay,” Stewart said, “remember you took me to that lounge where limo drivers go after work? I had a few beers, you had a few vodkas, I remember something you said that night. Never argue with a drunken man.”
“Yes, I remember. You bought the expensive vodka. Seems I break my own rules.”
Nikolay holstered the gun.
“Let’s go there for a nightcap,” Stewart said, “but not you Bi-Way. You need to detox.”
“Are you talking to me?” Jerry asked.
“Yes, Bi-Way is your new nickname.”
As Stewart promised, they had ordered the equivalent of ten meals and eaten nearly eighty percent. Jerry was deleting text messages when Julie reappeared at their table, carrying a purse and workout bag.
“Hello gentlemen,” Julie said. “I just wanted say good-bye and apologize for my remark earlier.”
“You’re ready to leave, already?” Stewart asked.
“If Larry fired you, I can get your job back. He owes me.”
“This job is not for me. Though, I should have waited until the end of the shift to get my free meal. As you all can tell I’m a little impulsive.”
“Bi-Way, jump up and flag us down a waitress.”
“No, please. That would be too embarrassing. Look, these guys haven’t touched their pancakes. The plates are still warm.”
“Teddy Bear, Bi-Way, would you be so polite as to slide out and let the lady sit down? Bottlehead, pass over the syrup.”
“She can sit at the end and eat her pancakes,” Jerry said.
“Bi-Way, be polite. She’s wearing a short skirt and I’m sure she would be more comfortable if she wasn’t exposed to gawkers.
Jerry let out a long, laborious sigh and slid out of the booth followed by Ted. Julie touched both Ted and Jerry on the arm and thanked them.
“Speaking of gawkers,” Stewart said. Has anyone noticed Kurt Cobain over there, watching us?”
“I thought he died,” one of the twins said.
“Not the real Kurt Cobain, he just reminds me of him,” Stewart said.
“What?” Jerry asked. “The guy has the biggest hiking boots I‘ve ever seen and he’s got dreadlocks. How the hell do you get Cobain from that?”
Stewart and Jerry stared at each other. After a few seconds, Julie broke the silence.
“I can tell you about him. The waitresses clued me in so I wouldn’t freak out. He was in construction, before the Vegas bust. He does odd jobs. Says he can only afford one meal a day. So we let him sit and eat until the table needs bussing. He never touches the tip, doesn’t stuff food in his pockets. He’s not a chew and screw, a guy who runs out on the check.”
“I’m surprised the boss allows that,” Ted said.
“Larry doesn’t know, please don’t say anything,” Julie said.
Stewart and Jerry continued staring at each other. Stewart had hoped that over time Jerry would get over the Transgender Tragedy, as Stewart had named it. By now it should be something everyone joked about. Instead, Jerry’s resentment had grown. During the last two Vegas trips Jerry had been sullen and absent for most of the game play. He would have breakfast with the crew but then leave on his own with no explanation.
“You two are really making me uncomfortable,” Julie said.
Stewart flinched first. “Please Julie, pay no attention to us. We’re just kids having a staring contest.”
“Who won?” she asked.
“If you felt uncomfortable, then nobody won.” Stewart placed his hand on top of Julie’s hand for a count of three Mississippis.
“Oh give me a break,” Jerry said.
“Bi-Way, is something on your mind?”
“Ask me using my real name.”
“Okay. Jerry, what is it?
Julie let her hand drop to her lap and then quickly placed it on Stewart’s thigh. She patted and then stroked his thigh three times. He continued to feel the contact though she had moved her hand back to her lap. Sensations began popping around Stewart’s body. He could feel the starch on the collar of his Oxford dobby shirt. For some unknown reason, the seams in his socks began irritating him. Was she the one? The one who would understand and embrace his drive for perfection?
“Everyone knows my name,” Julie said, “I only know some of yours. Some of them sound like prison names.”
Everyone laughed except Jerry. When the laughter died down he stepped out of the booth.
“No one here tells my nickname story. If you do I will leave. None of you will ever see me again.”
Julie dug her nails into Stewart’s thigh and whispered, “Don’t let him go because of me.”
“Stewart, you always say you know our tells,” Jerry said. “Look at me, am I bluffing?”
“Chill, Jerry. If you don’t want the Transgender Tragedy told, fine.”
Julie released her bear trap hold on Stewart’s leg. She then began slowly rubbing his wounds in soft, circular motions. She looked at Stewart with a smile and then pantomimed zipped lips.
“I don’t mind telling our story,” Roger said. “We had the best run we ever had. Just a few dollars short of seven thousand. We decided to get bobblehead figures. They have a process where you can put your own face on them. After a bottle of Captain Morgan and a whole bunch of cheap tequila, we started fighting over what the figures were called. I thought they were called bottleheads and my brother thought they were called bubbaheads. We woke up in jail owing ten thousand dollars in damages for the hotel room. All our winnings went to pay the damages and Stewart offered to pay off the balance for the rights to nickname us.
Julie looked towards Ted and Jerry intervened.
“Ted, you don’t have to say anything.”
“Jerry, I will get her back. You’ll see.” Teddy said. “So, it happened to me here in Vegas. In this very booth. I got a call from my high school sweetheart, turned college girlfriend, turned fiancée. I took the call on speaker with the guys all around. She wanted to talk in private but I said anything she wants to say to me, she can say to my friends. She said she wanted out of the engagement and she was seeing other people. At first I thought she wanted a break. I asked how long until we try again. She said ‘Never, Teddy Bear.’ That was her pet name for me.”
“And you got nothing for the nickname,” Jerry said.
“I’ll get her back. And then Stewart has to come up with the carats, as in diamonds, and the two week Hawaiian honeymoon.”
Julie scooted away from Stewart. After a long silence Stewart said, “Here comes Kurt on my two.”
“Let’s ask him if he wants something to eat,” Julie said.
Stewart thought a show of generosity might mitigate whatever Julie was thinking about the nicknaming.
“Julie, you ask him to join us. I think he’ll be more receptive with an attractive woman asking.”
Julie looked down at her lap and then up to Stewart. “Thank you for the compliment.”
His name was not Kurt but Roy, and after ten minutes of continuous talking and eating he suddenly stopped.
“Lady and Gentlemen, please excuse my jabbering. I don’t have very many conversations since I’m invisible,” Roy said.
“Do you really think you’re invisible?” Sean asked.
“When you’re on the streets, people stop seeing you. The other day someone stepped on my foot and didn’t say a word. I was concerned because I’ve been thinking of using my sideshow deformity to make money.”
“Sideshow deformity?” Julie asked.
“My feet. The toes are almost as long as my fingers. That’s how I got the nickname Monkey Toes. That’s why I wear these huge boots.”
Julie slid back to Stewart so there was no space between their thighs and asses. They spoke in a low tone.
“Do you believe him?” she asked.
“No, he’s going to hit us up for some cash.”
“Do you buy the monkey toes?” she asked.
“That has to be the weirdest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
Then they giggled like ten year olds.
“Roy,” Stewart said. “If you’re still hungry we can order more food. You don’t have to make shit up.”
“I’m not lying. I was called Monkey Toes all through my childhood.”
“Ok…let’s see your monkey toes then.”
“No, I don’t like you. I only show my feet to people I like.”
“I knew you were bullshitting,” Stewart said.
“Stop calling me a liar. Let’s bet on it.”
“Okay, how much?”
“Five thousand dollars. I can buy a used truck and get all my equipment out of hock.”
Stewart knew Roy was not being truthful. If his equipment was still re-claimable he would still have callouses on his hands. Roy’s hands were soft and pink.
“What are the terms? What is the deciding factor?”
“I thought I’d show everyone my feet and then people would vote on whether I am telling the truth or not. Except you and your call girl…you two can’t vote.”
“Hey monkey ass, you just lost your only friend here.” Julie fired back.
“When gentlemen bet,” Stewart said, “they turn over the stakes to a third party or at least show they have the wager. Do you have five thousand dollars to show us?”
“Happy trails, Roy.” Julie said.
“Isn’t this a fucked-up world? I finally get a break and can’t do anything because you got to have money to make money.”
“Capitalism is a bitch,” Stewart replied.
“I’ll front the five thousand,” Jerry exclaimed. “Roy, I’m putting two hundred dollars on the table. If this is all bullshit, we’ll consider it the floor show and you walk away with two Benjamins.
“I’m not lying,” Roy said.
“Let’s go over to that empty table to talk.”
The two men walked towards the empty table near a pair of double doors.
“Wait,” Stewart called out. Stewart looked at the twins and said, “Slide out both of you.”
Stewart caught up with Roy and Jerry. “I should be a part of this conversation. You’re getting information I’m not getting.”
“Do Blackjack players get to see both cards of the dealer’s hand? If you don’t like the limited information then don’t bet.”
“No, don’t say that,” Roy said. “Please, I want my life back.”
Stewart stared at the floor scratching his two day old beard.
“Okay, but I have one stipulation. Jerry, you can’t see Roy’s feet until after the bet is made. You have to go solely on his word.”
Now it was Jerry’s turn to stare, but instead of looking at Stewart, Jerry stared at Roy. When the third tear ran down Roy’s face Jerry said, “Agreed, but I want a side bet.”
“For what and how much?” Stewart asked.
“Roy, go over to the table and wait. I want to talk to Stewart.”
“Are you selling me out bro?” Roy asked.
“Damn it Roy, just go.”
Roy slow-walked, turning his head to glance back every three seconds, checking that Jerry was still there.
“The side bet goes like this. If Roy pulls it off, all nicknames are gone forever, except the one I will give you for one year. And from time-to-time you will have to wear a hat and tee-shirt of my liking. And you have to honor whatever deal you have with Ted.”
“Now this all makes sense, Bi-Way. You don’t give a shit about Roy. What do I get on this side bet if Monkey Toes crashes and burns?”
“I’ll take your side bet on two conditions. You can’t tell the crew and if you win, I’ll need time to phase your nickname out. They’ll know something’s up if I suddenly stop using nicknames.”
“Okay.” Jerry held out his hand and Stewart took it.
Stewart went back to the booth and kept watch over Jerry and Roy. They talked for five minutes and then they stood up and went through the double doors.
“What the Hell,” Stewart said. “He’s breaking the agreement. Move, move.” Before the twins could slide out. Jerry and Roy came back through the doors and walked towards the booth.”
When they approached Stewart called out, “Did you see his toes?”
Many diners were in earshot and turned to look at Stewart. Roy slid into the booth.
Before Jerry slid in, he addressed the diners. “The man has a foot fetish.”
“Did you Jerry? Did you see his feet?” Stewart asked.
“No. We were in the hallway for only two or three seconds. Listen, I’m not comfortable with a bet based on opinions. Roy says he can pick up a dime off a concrete floor using only his toes.”
“How long will it take to pick up a dime?” Julie asked. “Do we wait for hours until he gets lucky?”
Stewart kept quiet. He enjoyed Julie taking over. She acted like she was protecting her man. Julie continued with the terms of the bet.
“There must be a time limit, and he has to do a quarter, a dime and a nickel. To prove dexterity, he should pick-up the coins and drop them in a coffee mug. He’ll have two seconds per coin. Can you think of anything else, Sweetie?”
The question stunned Stewart. He was about to answer when Jerry spoke.
“Why is she talking? This bet is between me and you.”
“I agree with everything Julie has said. If I want to add something I will,” Stewart said.
“Listen, Bi-Way,” Julie said. “I’m-.”
“No, you listen bitch. You will not use that name to address me.”
“Bi-Way, that’s so unnecessary.” Stewart said.
Everyone was quiet. Finally Ted spoke up.
“I think two seconds for a heavy quarter is fair. The weight makes it easier to manipulate. A nickel has weight because it’s thick but the circumference is small. Four seconds for the nickel.
“Three seconds on the nickel,” Julie said.
Jerry stared very hard at Julie. Julie returned his stared but she finally broke and turned away from him. She pressed her cheek against Stewart’s upper arm.
“The dime is the toughest,” Ted said. “I’d say five seconds-”
“Four seconds on the dime,” Stewart said.
“Alright, but how are you going to time it? Just make it a nine second event for all three coins, unless someone wants to overrule?”
All eyes turned to Stewart and Julie. Stewart felt her cheek pressing harder against his arm. She placed her hand on his shirt placard, playing with his buttons as a child might. He began to wonder if all the testosterone was too much for her.
“One more thing,” Roy said, “The hallway over there is very cold. Since you are making me pick up three coins I worry my toes will cramp. Can we get warm towels or a blanket?”
“I have a yoga mat,” Julie said.
“Thank-you, Julie,” Jerry said. “That will really help Roy.”
Jerry gave her a half smile and she returned it. Stewart saw the exchange knowing that was the only apology she would get from Jerry.
Sean started to walk to the back hallway when Jerry called him back. “It should only be Stewart, Roy and me.”
“What?” Sean said. “We’ve listened to all your crap and now we don’t get to see the outcome?”
“Screw you Sean,” Jerry said. “You want to watch? Buy half of Roy. Twenty-five hundred dollars.”
“Wait,” Julie said. “I’m going to be there too, right Sweetie?”
“Yes.” Stewart said.
“Why is she going?” Jerry asked.
“She is the time keeper and feet inspector. He will have to wash his feet. I want to make sure there is no tape or adhesives unless you want to do it, Jerry”
Twenty minutes later everything was set up in the hallway. Julie had just finished with the coins and mug and waived Stewart over.
“Sweetie, I accidentally spilt water on the coins. It might make it slippery. Should I say something?”
Stewart looked for Roy and Jerry. They were conversing at the opposite end of the hall.
“A performer is responsible to take care of his own equipment and props.”
Roy and Jerry walked to the coins and mug. Roy unrolled the yoga mat and placed it behind the cups and coins. Finally, Roy took off his boots. Stewart kept looking at Roy’s feet for abnormalities, but all he noticed was both of Roy’s second toes were longer than his big toes. Stewart also noticed that Roy could stick his first three toes nearly straight up, which he kept doing over and over.
“It’s go time,” Roy said.
He stepped to the dime holding his first three toes straight up. He pressed his second right toe on the dime, pushing with all his weight, and it stuck to his skin. He could see just a crescent of the coin stuck on the bottom of his toe. He raised his foot over the coffee mug and flicked the coin into it with his right big toe. He moved to the nickel and repeated the process, except this time the nickel was stuck to his right big toe. Roy used his second toe to flick the coin into the mug as well.
“Jules, time left?” Roy asked.
He pressed his left big toe on the quarter. He raised the coin and flicked it into the cup. During the coin drops Stewart had knelt down to ensure the coins were properly dropped. Just when Stewart stood, he saw Roy pull his dreadlocks off his head and throw the wig down the corridor.
“That wig is torture,” Roy exclaimed.
Stewart then turned to see Julie kissing Jerry. At first he thought it might be a good sportsmanship, congratulatory kiss, but when Jerry reached down and squeezed her left ass cheek, Stewart realized he had been conned.
“Baby, you are the best honey pot ever,” Jerry said. I have never seen Stewart so off his game.”
They kissed again and Stewart looked away during the double-barrel round of grab ass.
“This means nothing Bi-Way. You can’t win a bet by subterfuge.”
“Before we get into all that, let’s act civilized for a few minutes.” Jerry said. “Stewart, this is my fiancée Julie, but she prefers Jules.”
“It’s my nickname,” Julie said.
“Stewart,” Julie said. “I’d like you to meet the real Monkey Toes. My baby brother Roy. When he was born his toes were as long as his feet so I called him Monkey Toes and it stuck. Last New Year’s Eve we were drinking when Jerry got the courage to tell the Bi-Way story. I couldn’t understand why he was so fixated on the nickname. Then Roy said he always resented me for giving him the Monkey Toes nickname. So we started operation Uni-Way.
“Very touching,” Stewart said. “But it changes nothing.”
“I disagree,” Jerry said. “We scripted this. Nothing untrue was said to you.”
“I’m a hydrology major,” Roy said. The study of water. I took advantage of the cohesive properties of water – not its adhesive properties. I’m sure you’ve seen someone fog up a spoon with their breath and then put the spoon on their nose. Same principle.”
“Sounds like cheating to me,” Stewart said.
“No Stewart,” Jerry said. “You don’t get to go there. You admitted that Jules was your agent, so when she sabotaged the coins, you sabotaged the coins. It doesn’t matter that wet coins was beneficial to Roy. You thought you were making the coins slippery. We really don’t want your money, but I expect you to honor the side bet on nicknames.”
Stewart paced the hallway in thought, wondering how to spin everything for the crew. After a few minutes he had a plan.
“Okay the bet is off,” Stewart said to Jerry. “We’ll tell the crew that Roy freaked out and ran out the exit door. I’ll honor the side bet, but I still want six months to phase out nicknames. Also Julie goes back to the table and says her good-byes. You can re-introduce her in six months with some matter of happenstance and kismet.”
“Fine,” Jerry said.
“Really? I expected more of a fight.”
“I’m trying to just go with the flow, Stewart.”
Julie kissed her brother good bye and promised to text him later. The three stood at the closed doors leading to the dining room.
“Julie, you should stand next to me, not Jerry.”
Julie took a step forward and Stewart pushed the doors open. They walked into the lunch rush. At first Stewart could not see the crew, but as they got closer he saw them, including Larry the supervisor and Shirley the hostess. They were all sitting in the booth with spoons stuck to their noses. Stewart stopped to gather his coolness and then continued to the booth. Everyone tried to hold their laughter.
“Alright,” Stewart said. “You got me.”
Everyone let go of their laughter, and started throwing questions at Stewart. Roger stood on the booth’s seat cushion and unrolled a scroll of paper across the table.
“Stewart, this is our flowchart. We had every choice laid out. Like if you didn’t arrange for Jules to sit next to you, she had lines about nuns and Catholic school. The only thing to worry about was if you decided not to bet, but that was very unlikely.”
“No more bets for me,” Stewart said. “Not with this crew, just poker and that’s all.”
The booth erupted with laughter. As it subsided, Ted spoke.
“I have to ask. Did Stewart let the coins stay wet?”
“Of course he did,” Jerry said.
“Damn,” Ted said.
Ted pulled a hundred dollar bill from his pocket and passed it to Sean.
“Ted, never underestimate our boss’s fervor for winning.”
“Hey, where’s Roy?” Ted asked.
When Julie remained silent Stewart filled the void. “He’s probably soaking his head. He said the wig was torture. Julie, rather Jules, text him again to see what’s up.”
Larry and Shirley stood saying their good-byes. Shirley gave Stewart a long, tight hug.
“Shirley, I’m so glad you’re still here. I wouldn’t have known where to send the checks.”
Jerry stood holding a plastic bag from a souvenir shop. He took out a plastic mesh ball cap and a white tee-shirt. The ball cap had iron on letters reading The Vegas Toe Sucker. The tee-shirt read Ask Me How I Became The Vegas Toe Sucker.
“There is no way I’m wearing this crap,” Stewart said. “Plastic mesh ball cap and iron on letters? If I’m doing this it will be stylish. I’m thinking a classic Trilby hat done with Panama straw. An extra-large black band with gold lettering. Also, I’ll have half of my oxford shirt pockets embroidered.”
Ted asked Jerry to tell how it all went down. Julie moved away from the group and sat next to Stewart.
“Embroidering your shirts seems over the top,” Julie said.
“You don’t understand, if I’m doing this for a year, I’m doing it forever.”
“In Vegas, money is the driving force, and after money comes connections. Just imagine how many conversations Toe Sucker will start. People will remember me and the bet.”
“No hard feelings?”
“None at all, Jules. I’m glad you’re on the crew, we needed an Angie Dickinson.”